Microsoft Refuses to Hand Over Emails to US Government

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( — September 1, 2014)  — Judge Loretta Preska, the chief of the US District Court in Manhattan ruled out on July 31 that Microsoft was required to hand over email messages stored in Ireland data center to US prosecutors investigating a criminal case.

Preska stated that it’s a matter of control instead of where the data resides, meaning that if the data is controlled by a US company, somehow that data also falls under US jurisdiction. This is similar to how US banks must provide information on financial transactions for accounts held in other countries.

However, the order was temporarily suspended amid complaints in the US that argued that allowing US authorities to search and seize data held internationally, was illegal. Microsoft has argued that data residing in another country should be held to the laws of that country, not by an overreaching US legal system.

On Friday, however, Judge Preska lifted that suspension after prosecutors successfully convinced her that her order was not appealable. The removal of the suspension legally requires Microsoft to hand over the email data immediately.

Preska said that “the fact the court has not closed this case cuts against Microsoft’s argument” that her order was final and appealable.

“We will appeal promptly and continue to advocate that people’s emails deserve strong privacy protection in the US and around the world,” said in a statement Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith. “The only issue that was certain this morning was that the District Court’s decision would not represent the final step in this process,” he said. The judge ordered both sides to advise by Sept. 5 how to proceed.

In the view of Microsoft and many legal experts, federal authorities have no jurisdiction over data stored outside the country. It says that the court order violates Ireland’s sovereignty and that prosecutors need to seek a legal treaty with Ireland in order to obtain the data they want.

While this may be the first case that a US search warrant has been challenged, it will probably not be the last. Other companies, including AT&T Inc, Apple Inc, Cisco Systems Inc and Verizon Communications Inc submitted briefs supporting Microsoft’s opposition to the warrant.

Of perhaps more importance is the faith and trust of Microsoft’s customers from around the world.

Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s data surveillance activities have stoked widespread fears overseas about the safety of corporate data in the hands of US cloud service providers. Some have predicted that the concerns could cost US technology companies tens of billions of dollars in lost business over the next few years.

Like other technology companies that are pushing cloud services, Microsoft has been negatively impacted by reports about US governmental spying and its ability to seize data stored in cloud data centers.

It has asked governments from around the world to stop these practices of revealing data and sensitive information, and respect privacy rights.